The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. (Nathaniel Branden)
So The Good Wife threw me one heck of a sucker punch last night. And although I focused my review on the untimely death of Will Gardner, it didn’t seem like enough to me. Not after spending this TV season having the pleasure of talk about how good Josh Charles has been. I didn’t want to let his great work go without one last chance to speak about it. And then there came a jumble of other thoughts, about losing Will, about not getting to watch one of my favorite actors every Sunday, and about what fictional deaths mean in our real lives. This, then, is sort of a mess…not unlike me after watching that episode.
I’m notoriously horrible with character deaths if they’re played by someone I like or someone that I know. I’m so bad that I’ve specifically requested people warn me in advance. When I first saw S.W.A.T., for example, when Josh’s character died I had a kneejerk reaction of blurting something out and then starting to cry…in a packed movie theater. That was awkward. Or in one of my most hilarious moments, when Xander Berkeley died on 24, I jumped up off my couch crying in denial…then slipped, struck my head on my coffee table, and knocked myself unconscious. There’s just some part of me that can’t entirely detach, because I allow myself to become invested in the character, the actor, or both.
This one hit me particularly hard. Josh has been my favorite actor for 14 years; I’ve seen almost everything he’s done, and that’s meant plenty of memories I’ve created watching his movies. We’ve already been over how his portrayal of Dan Rydell on Sports Night left probably the biggest single creative fingerprint on my life. I’m probably one of only a handful of people who ever saw Crossworlds, but honestly it’s one of my favorite films. On the screenwriting side, I’ve written a few characters that he inspired. For whatever reason, what he does has deeply connected with me, and I’m better for it. Hopefully, one of these days, I’ll get to shake his hand and thank him for everything.
That feeling has been compounded by a couple other factors that I experience through my job. For one, the primary reason I love TV as a medium is because I get to enjoy the work of actors more than once every few months or years, and see their characters grow over more than two hours. Watching The Good Wife every Sunday, particularly this season, was an hour of comfort to me having developed a fondness for Will Gardner and of course watching Josh work. And having taken over reviewing The Good Wife for Starpulse this season allowed me the opportunity to hopefully give back to him in some small measure. Knowing that’s all gone now, well…that’s heartbreaking.
Not to say that I don’t completely understand it. As a screenwriter and novelist, I absolutely grasp Josh’s desire to move on and do other things. You come to a point with characters where you’ve just done all you can do. Obviously, Josh knew this was Will’s time. Whatever he does next, I’m sure it’ll be great, and I’ll absolutely be there to see it.
As for how he went out? Well, I understand the outrage, but I also understand Robert and Michelle King’s point of view in choosing to kill him off, and do so randomly. When I lost my best friend almost 14 years ago – a trauma that Josh’s work on Sports Night helped me get through – it was a random accident. It took me the longest time to grasp that there was nothing I could have done, no reason for why it happened, nothing that would give me any sort of answer. I would’ve loved for Will to have been kept alive, but maybe because I’ve been in the emotional place the Kings were trying to evoke, I’m okay with their choice. Even as I’m going to sit in denial about it. Just like I still pretend the fictional Sports Night is still on the air.
But here’s my final point, I suppose, and that’s that I understand the collective grief of the people mourning Will, and mourning any fictional character, really. We become invested in these characters, in their relationships, because that’s what TV asks us to do. It asks us to care about these people enough to tune in week after week for them. And you create memories because of that, whether it’s as trivial as a favorite episode or as meaningful as something that inspires you. You’re not just crying over the character, but over all of that as well.
And for me, that investment is so much deeper because this is what I’ve chosen to build my life around, in all respects. When I’m not an entertainment journalist, I’m an entertainment writer. I live and breathe this stuff, really. So I’m not going to say anyone’s out of line for getting upset tonight. In fact, I’m the one having needed a stiff drink and having to write this blog just so I can get my emotions out. It’s tough stuff. But it’s also the most beautiful thing in the world, that something which is not real can have a very real effect. That I can thank Josh Charles for no small part of the person I am today, just because of a few roles that he played on TV. How fantastic is that?
One chapter’s ending. But just like I said when Sports Night folded, hopefully I’ll get another chance someday soon. And until then, I’ll be right here just appreciating the chances that I’ve had to enjoy such a brilliant actor move me in a way no one else does.